Keeping Going Through The Frustration

The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #4

It’s fair to say that La Maja de Goya is quite a challenging little piece! A fiddly little bugger, with some fantastically gorgeous chord movements that require a little (or a lot of) work. Being a transcription from a piano piece originally that’s understandable I guess.Soundhole B&W

The piece is one of those things that sounds so very simple, deceptively so. On beginning to learn it one realises it is anything but simple and you begin to understand the level of work required to do justice to such a marvellous piece of music.

Not that I ever expected it to be simple to learn – it’s on the LMusA diploma list after all! And not that I ever really wanted it to be simple either. It is through challenges like this (technical rather than musical in this sense) that one grows, develops, changes, takes the next steps in the never-ending journey of improving your technique and mastering the instrument. And it is never-ending really – there is always more to learn or refine and there will always be a piece of music out there to challenge you.

Those little technical knots and niggles I’m coming across are quite a source of frustration. Seemingly innocuous, seemingly simple, yet the execution of these elements is less than desirable at present. This is where I have to tease each one out in isolation and look at what’s going on with my left and right hands. With the left hand are there any extraneous movements going on, alternative fingerings I could use and so on. With my right hand am I playing the correct strings, which fingers am I using, am I preparing the fingers and thumb as I need to be, am I placing the right hand fingers down on the correct strings in sync with the left hand movements and so on.

As I said, La Maja de Goya  is a technical challenge rather than a musical one for me, as the musical direction is pretty clear (to me at least) and I’ve got a number of ideas in my head as to how I want the piece to sound. Which is another source of frustration – I know the music I want to produce, I’ve just got to get the left hand and right hand to help my produce that! And I will. I know that in time, with solid consistent practice, I will be able to play this as beautifully as any other  pieces I play.

And this is where I have to exercise patience. It will take as long as it takes and moving from “point A” to “point B” is never going to be a smooth linear movement. This is where I also have to cut myself some slack that it will come as a result of my efforts (which it always has done in the past so why should it be any different now?!), trust myself, soak in the words of wisdom and guidance of my wonderful teacher Ben Dix, aim to let go of that frustration, breath, relax and keep on working.



The LMusA Diploma Journey – Update #2 – An Example of A Day’s Practice

Last weekend we were treated to a fantastic four day long weekend with the Easter break – yes!

This meant plenty of available practice time and plenty of unadulterated, non-tired-from-10-hours-at-work type practice too! It also meant I could get stuck into two practice sessions in the one day a couple of times too. I find this a particularly effective way of practicing as it means your concentration remains focussed across a shorter time period (you’re not trying to concentrate for 3 or 4 hours straight), which tends to mean the practice is of higher quality. It also means that it gives the brain a chance to rest, digest and assimilate the new information coming in. A bit like an athlete, I understand that it’s when you’re at rest that changes occur, when your muscles  and neural pathways repair, rebuild, adapt and grow (so long as you’ve put in the right kind of high quality training prior to taking that rest).Classical Guitar

Last Friday was such an example of a double header practice day. A great 1.5 hour session in the morning concentrating on reading through and getting under the fingers for the first time the second section of La Maja de Goya. This didn’t involve just reading from the start of that section through to the end though. I initially focussed on the first 10 bars of that section, understanding the musical shapes, direction and the mechanics of the music – where the right hand needed to be (which strings and initial thoughts on tone colour) and where the left hand needed to be too, examining fingering choices – and scribbling notes furiously into the score. I then did this with the following 18 bars of the section, really focussed in on deliberate, slow movements, concentrating on accurate placement of left and right hand fingers to start building the muscle memory in the way I intend from the get go. Going back to fix up a bad habit that you’ve played over and over or a niggling little knot that you’ve ignored can be a real pain in the backside, so I think it’s worth taking the time at the start of a piece. Even if you’re playing it ridiculously slowly it will pay dividends as you become more familiar and comfortable with the piece.

And then in the afternoon, coming back to the guitar for another hour or so, I honed straight in on the most tricky elements of the material I had been working on in the morning, before then working on stitching that together to the first section that I’d been working on in the week prior. That probably took me around 45 minutes all up (not that time is really of significance, I believe – these things take as long as they need to). I then spent some time on the second section of the Fuga from J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite BWV 997 (a favourite of mine to play and a constant on my music stand in recent months), pulling out specific bars and phrases and treating them as left hand accuracy exercises (Bach’s great for that!).

And continuing on with the Bach theme I then did around 5 minutes sight reading with the Fuga from BWV 998 (the first 28 bars to be precise). This piece is on the repertoire list for the LMusA diploma, so was keen to start exploring it and definitely keen to get working on it as a possible part of the program  for the exam.

So, yes, two practice sessions in a day, where I can fit it in, I find really helpful and my progress shoots along, even if the practice periods themselves are on the shorter side. The upshot of a total of five days of practice in a similar manner to this across the last week (including a three day trip to outback Queensland!) means that I now have the entirety of La Maja de Goya underway, it starting to really come together, a great foundation to get stuck into the details of the material and sound like the semblances of a fantastic piece of music.